The swift and hushed exit of long-serving assistant Zeljko Buvac is one of the strangest mysteries of Jurgen Klopp‘s time at Liverpool – even for the players!
When Klopp took over at Anfield in 2015, he ensured that his two closest assistants joined the Reds alongside him.
From Mainz to Dortmund to Liverpool, Klopp, Buvac and Peter Krawietz were inseparable, their skills complementing each other as ‘the heart’, ‘the brain’ and ‘the eyes’ of those sides respectively.
But while Klopp and Krawietz remain on Merseyside after over eight years, Buvac has now been replaced by Pepijn Lijnders as part of a growing, world-class backroom.
It came after the Bosnian-Serb’s shock departure on the eve of Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final second leg against AS Roma in 2018.
First described as temporary leave, Buvac later left the club permanently, though no explanation has been given for his exit – with the players themselves left in the dark.
In his book ‘Si Senor: My Liverpool Years’, Roberto Firmino picked up the story of Buvac leaving and admitted that there had been no contact “to this day.”
“The boss considered himself the heart of the coaching staff, Pete was the eye and Zeljko was the brain,” Firmino wrote.
“Klopp’s right-hand man, Zeljko was the one who actively participated in training, organising everything and leading sessions.
“His departure in 2018 was a bit strange for all of us; nobody understood what happened.
“To this day, we don’t know and we haven’t heard from Zeljko.
“The rumours at the time were that they had clashed over some signing. Honestly, I never asked the boss about it.”
While it had been feared that losing Buvac’s tactical mind would see Klopp’s influence wane, Liverpool in fact went on to enjoy more success without him – winning every trophy possible.
Part of that can be attributed to Lijnders, who Firmino credits as a “big help” in his own development.
“After Zeljko left, Pepijn Lijnders returned to the club,” the Brazilian continued.
“Pep was already working in Liverpool’s youth academy before Klopp and I arrived; he was responsible for player development.
“He’s a real football enthusiast, forever studying the game; a true scholar.
“He’s multilingual and, having worked in Portugal, speaks excellent Portuguese. We communicated well from the outset.
“And although Pep had left the club in 2018 to become the head coach of a club in the Netherlands, he then returned to Liverpool to be the new assistant.
“Pep is an incredible guy, very intelligent tactically.
“Having him back proved a big help to me, both because we could converse in my language and because of his game-to-game advice on positioning.”